Critics’ Picks

View of “Tschabalala Self: Bodega Run,” 2019.

Los Angeles

Tschabalala Self

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
February 2–April 28, 2019

New York City’s first bodegas were founded in the 1940s, primarily by Puerto Rican entrepreneurs. Today, approximately thirteen thousand stores dot the city, and the bodega has become “a lighthouse in an ocean of gentrification,” as Harlem-born artist Tschabalala Self puts it—“a relic from times past.” In “Bodega Run,” the artist’s site-specific installation at the Hammer Museum, Self riffs on common elements in these small establishments, welcoming viewers with neon signs that read “ABIERTO/OPEN” and “COFFEE/TEAS,” a convex security mirror, and wallpaper with line drawings of cans and shelves.

For Self, the goods these vendors sell are extensions of the multicultural communities that bodegas serve and bring together. In Bodega Run Diptych, 2017, two customers browse Udupi-brand plantain chips and a cooler of Ballantine Ale and Presidente beer. Together with the Negra Modelo that sits at one patron’s feet, these products represent India, the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. The laminate floor—striped in red, black, and green, the colors of Pan-Africanism and the Black Liberation movement—also affirms that “the bodega is and was a space created for people of color by people of color, to serve the needs of communities of color,” as the artist notes. Self has foregrounded black and brown bodies throughout her practice. Here, several portraits focus on women whose bodies are comprised of several cut and sewn layers of fabric that attentively describe the details of hands, feet, and faces.

Craft notwithstanding, Self represents this locus of metropolitan life with a dose of humor—one sculpture renders a woman bending over, revealing her rainbow vulva. Along with the other larger-than-life essentials, a crate and a cat, the sculptures in Self’s reconstructed bodega comprise an immersive stage.